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Cataracts in dogs: can they be prevented?

I have a two-year-old Jack Russell Terrier and I’ve read that they are prone to cataracts when they get older. Are there any supplements or vitamins I can give my dog to help prevent this?

James Farrell advises...

Cataracts form in dogs’ eyes for a number of reasons. Due to a chemical change within the lens inside the eye, the clear cells become solid grey/ white in colour, which then obscures the dog’s vision. At first it’s a bit like looking through a frosted bathroom window, and the dog will be able to see light and dark and shadows moving, but lack focus. Advanced cataracts can block out all light, making the dog completely blind. Older dogs will often have ‘senile change’ occur to the eye and lens, making it bluish-grey in colour. While this will reduce the dog’s vision, these are not true cataracts – more a sign of an ageing pet, and not really preventable.

One of the most common reasons for true cataracts is diabetes mellitus. The condition, as in humans, causes the dog to drink lots more water than usual, and lose weight (although they are often overweight to start with). The cataracts form because the excess sugar in the blood circulation in diabetic dogs reacts in the lens of the eye, causing deposits to form, which are solid and white in colour. So taking steps to try to prevent diabetes is worthwhile, but no vitamins will particularly help prevent this occurring.

While diabetes may occur even in the best looked-after of dogs, there are some steps owners can take to reduce the likelihood of it occurring. We know that obese dogs are more prone to diabetes, so having regular check-ups with your vet, or weigh-ins at the nurse clinic, are useful to keep an eye on your dog’s weight. Avoid excessive treats, and certainly avoid human sweets and biscuits, as these will give the dog more sugar than needed. Terriers are also particularly prone to lens luxation. This is when the lens becomes loose in the eye and slips forwards to rest against the inside of the cornea. The lens may then turn cloudy and block the vision, but can also cause glaucoma, where the pressure of the eye builds up. This is very painful and is an emergency condition, so get it seen by a vet straight away.

Unfortunately, there is no particular way to prevent it, but through regular checks with your vet (perhaps at your dog’s annual visit for his booster vaccinations and general health check), any eye changes may be picked up. If the lens has become loose, drops may then be administered to close the pupil, and so keep the lens back in the right part of the eye. Also, weekly checks of your dog’s ears, eyes, teeth and paws (which owners are often doing automatically without realising, just as part of having some good ‘fuss’ time with the dog) will alert you to any changes that you can then ask your vet about.

Don’t stare for too long into your dog’s eyes, though, as some pets may see this as a bit threatening!

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